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October 12, 2009

Debashish & Bob Brozman - Sunrise

Well, folks, it's that time again. I'm heading off to travel around the misty isles of Britain and Ireland again, so don't expect any more posts for a while. But I thought I'd leave you with this special treat to savor while I'm away. I really shouldn't have to say anything to convince you this is wonderful music. The names speak for themselves. Two of the greatest slide guitarists in the world produce one of the greatest works of East-West fusion. Sweet and spicy, like a good curry. Like Ry Cooder & Vishwa Mohan Bhatt's grammy-award-winning album 'A Meeting By the River', but better. Mmmmmmm.....!

Bob Brozman's journey into India and its music began with Debashish Bhattacharya, who Bob considers the greatest slide guitarist of all time in any genre. Bob first encountered Debashish in 1996, when Bob, Debashish, and Martin Simpson all had recent concert video releases with Stefan Grossman's Vestapol videos. Stefan suggested getting together for a "World Of Slide Guitar" US tour, and the very first show in Vancouver, BC was the moment the that the three actually met, having arrived from different destinations. Debashish arrived from India with his brother Subhashis, master tabla player; Bob came in from Europe; and Martin arrived from California. There was no time for any rehearsal. The opening notes of this tour began with a simple agreement to play in D minor. From that point, only attentiveness, communication, and emotion built the music. Several cities deemed this concert to be their concert of the year. The 1996 tour included the West coast, Midwest, and East coast. The trio toured again in 1997, this time on the West coast, Canada and Hawaii.

In January 1998, Bob went to Calcutta for a residence and recording with Debashish and Subhashis. Being in Calcutta is a very intense experience, recommended for all Americans to witness how much of the world lives. SUNRISE was the result of a recording made in stifling 110-degree heat. The compositions on this recording were created to give the listener a true mixture of east and west. Drawing on Debashish's roots in Indian classical and folk music, and Bob's roots in blues, Hawaiian, Caribbean, jazz, and African music, these two guitarists employed both their cultural differences and their philosophical commonalities to compose a variety of completely new music. SUNRISE was released in 1998 in India only, and remains difficult to obtain.

Debashish Bhattacharya

Calcutta, India's Debashish Bhattacharya started learning Indian music from his parents before he learned the alphabet. In his childhood he mastered many Indian classical instrumental styles as well as vocal music from different musical teachers in Calcutta. He became a disciple and student of Brij Bhushan Khabra, the father of Indian classical guitar, for 10 years, and also trained under Ajoy Chakraborty, the eminent Indian vocalist. He has also studied with Ustad Ali Akbar Khan.

As a performer, Debashish gave his first guitar recital at the age of four on the All India Radio, and in a public concert. In his twenties, he evolved a unique style of playing guitar, synthesizing selected features of various other instruments such as the Veena, Sitar, Sarod and Kannur. In 1984, he was awarded the President of India award at the age of 21.

Debashish developed his innovative Hindustani slide guitar after years of research and experience. It consists of a Hofner acoustic F hole guitar, with a total of 22 strings. He added a platform of wood running the length of the guitar's neck, mounted with 17 tuning gears. This piece of wood extends the width of the neck, making room for twelve sympathetic strings, and five supporting strings for additional versatility. Above the 5 normal (sliding melody) strings, there is a pair of ckikari strings, as on a sitar. One of Debashish's innovations was to move them to the treble side of the guitar, which enables far more complex playing, since their rhythmic drones can be played by the fingers, over other melodies simultaneously. Debashish plays this guitar while sitting cross legged, with the guitar held on the lap and played with a small steel bar, metal picks and a celluloid thumb pick.

Debashish is perhaps the greatest slide guitarist who has ever lived. He has, both through creating the actual design of the instrument, and through his incredible talent and discipline, elevated the Hindustani slide guitar to be the highest evolution of slide guitar anywhere. Though he is often compared to V.M. Bhatt, there is little basis for comparison, because Debashish's music has far greater musical range, physical dexterity, and emotional depth. To develop his playing, he has undergone decades of disciplined study of Indian vocal technique combined with his instrumental work. Debashish can sing perfectly in parallel with every blindingly fast melody he plays. Possessed of a very open musical mind, Debashish is eager and more than qualified to collaborate and truly blend with musicians from any other country.

Since 1996, his collaboration with Bob has resulted in two "World of Slide" tours of the USA and Canada, plus more appearances with Bob, and with The International Troupe, in Canada and South Africa. Most recently, Debashish has toured Europe and recorded with John McLaughlin and his latest incarnation of Shakti. In 2002, Debashish returned to Quebec with Bob, and later reunited with Bob in California for the recording of MAHIMA, released June 2003.

Subhashis Bhattacharya - biography

Subhashis is a leader of his generation of Indian percussionists. As the younger brother of Debashish, Subhashis grew up steeped in the deep musical background of the Bhattacharya family, learning melody and rhythm from infancy. His father Sri Sunil Bhattacharya taught him tabla and his mother, vocalist Smt. Manjushree Bhattacharya worked with him melodically when he was a toddler.

He started to make his presence felt in the music scene from childhood as a promising tabla player trained by teachers Sri Prabir Bhattacharya and Pt. Shyamal Bose. Now, he is considered to be a master player, and he continues to study with Pandit Anindo Chatterjee, the senior tabla maestro. He has regularly performed in every major Indian music festival, and has recorded four albums with Debashish and seven albums with Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty.

Subhashis first toured outside of India in 1996 with Debashish and Bob. His skill and flexibility as percussionist on several instruments, rhythm arranger, and vocalist have since been heard on subsequent overseas tours in the USA, Canada, South Africa, Greece, Kuwait, Bangladesh, and Nepal. A leading studio musician in India, he has begun creating and leading large percussion ensembles, and his arranging skills are essential to the music on this album, as an equal participant in its creation. With meticulously tuned hand drums, he played intricate rhythms, plus melodic parts inside the rhythm section. Creating percussion landscapes by playing several instruments on multiple tracks gave Subhashis a sense of liberty, yielding one creative explosion after another.

Biography: Bob Brozman Today

Redefining musical diversity worldwide, Bob Brozman is a remarkably prolific artist whose wit, energy, and musical technique combine powerfully to create an unforgettable live performance. A master of slide, fingerstyle, and percussive guitar, Bob's exhilarating show spans the global and musical spectrum, and keeps audiences enthralled, begging for more of his endearing, infectious energy.

Bob's familiarity with diverse world music cultures produces a novel blending of rhythmic and timbral influences, unparalleled in today's musical environment. His rhythmic dexterity resonates with elements of blues, jazz, Gypsy swing, calypso, sega, and even the most modern hip-hop and ska beats.

Likewise, his chords and harmonies articulate an acute blend of timbres from Hawaiian, Indian, African, Japanese/Okinawan, Caribbean, and American roots blues. His fingerwork has been described in world press as uniquely staggering, yet full of humor. Bob has a collection of hand-tricks that make audiences look for electronic effects that in fact don't exist: his show is the clean product of acoustic genius.

Bob's disarming talent for humor and rapport invariably adds spice to his already well-seasoned repertoire of music. A lifelong study of ethnomusicology and the global migration of musical styles ensures Bob's committed attention and respect to each of the cultures in his repertoire. He casually shares historical facts with his audiences, and charms them with his ability to integrate local languages into his show: over the years, Bob has taught himself useful phrases in over 30 languages, which he regularly uses both on stage and off.

Undoubtedly, however, Bob's preferred language is music - which he speaks fluently, around the world. His most recent projects have rendered him a true player in the world music scene. Since 2000, Bob has completed 15 full-length recordings, both solo and with reknown artists from around the world. Most recently, POST-INDUSTRIAL BLUES (Ruf Records) and LUMIÈRE(World Music Network) have proven Bob's virtuosity in both the blues and world music genres. His 2005 release SONGS OF THE VOLCANO (CD/DVD) documents Bob's two journeys to Papua New Guinea in 2003 and 2004, when he recorded with 60 musicians from five string bands. Other notable projects include the 2003 release of MAHIMA (with Debashish Bhattacharya, India); the 2002 release DIGDIG (with René Lacaille, La Réunion Island); as well as JIN JIN (with Takashi Hirayasu, Okinawa); OCEAN BLUES (with Djeli Moussa Diawara, Guinea); IN THE SADDLE (with Ledward Kaapana, Hawaii); NANKURU NAISA (again with Hirayasu); TONE POEMS III (with David Grisman and Mike Auldridge, USA); SUNRISE (again with Bhattacharya); ROLLING THROUGH THIS WORLD (with Jeff Lang, Australia); GET TOGETHER (with Woody Mann, USA); and FOUR HANDS SWEET & HOT (with Cyril Pahinui, Hawaii). Bob's 2005 solo release BLUES REFLEX was nominated for The Blues Foundation's 2007 Blues Music Awards, in the category of "Acoustic Album of the Year."

An abundance of projects such as these has established Bob as, according to one reviewer, "the man whose musical empathy seems to know no bounds." And as journalist Paul Fisher notes, "If music existed in another universe, Bob would be the Planet Earth's representative for an interplanetary collaboration."

Bob Brozman - Early Biography

Bob was born in New York in 1954 and has been involved in music since early childhood. A guitarist since age 6, Bob discovered National guitars at age 13. In their unique sound, the young Bob found his musical calling. He studied music and ethnomusicology at Washington University with an emphasis on the earliest roots of Delta blues. He has since also become a respected authority on historical Hawaiian music, publishing articles and amassing a large collection of 78rpm records. He has produced five re-issue albums from this collection on the Rounder and Folklyric labels, documenting the best of Hawaiian music from 1915 to 1935.

In 1988, Bob rediscovered the legendary 1929 Hawaiian recording artists, the Tau Moe Family. Together they recorded a landmark album, REMEMBERING THE SONGS OF OUR YOUTH, an historic re-creation of the family's genuine Hawaiian music from 60 years prior. The album was released in 1989 to rave international reviews, including the Library of Congress Select List Award. With N.E.A. funding, Bob began production of a feature-length documentary film about the Moe family and their amazing 54-year-long world tour.

Over the years, Bob's passion for National Guitars led him to build a large collection of these fascinating art-deco era instruments. After receiving a letter from the then-88-year-old inventor John Dopyera, Bob visited and became good friends with John and his family. This led to further research, and in 1993 Bob's massive work THE HISTORY AND ARTISTRY OF NATIONAL RESONATOR INSTRUMENTS was published internationally. He has also written for several music magazines concerning historical and instructional subjects.

Since his first solo album in 1981, Bob's repertoire of recordings has grown by over 30 titles to include 14 solo projects and at least a dozen collaborations with international friends. His ability to use the guitar as a portable translator of culture - coupled with his empathetic nature (through music, culture, and language), and seemingly boundless energy - enables him to establish genuine musical friendships based on respect and love of music. Bob's deep knowledge of musical history and arranging has enabled him to create large band arrangements and direct music for film, radio, television, and stage. In the last year, Bob produced albums for Ledward Kaapana and the Asylum Street Spankers; he also continues to generate educational and concert videos for Homespun Tapes and Vestopol Videos, respectively.

In 1999, Bob and Woody Mann co-founded International Guitar Seminars, which hosts over 120 students annually at sites in California, New York, and Canada. The team has pioneered a week-long, deluxe workshop in which students study day and night with a faculty that includes Bob, Woody, John Cephas, John Renbourn, Orville Johnson, Michael Dunn, Mary Flower, Mike Dowling, Jim Nichols, Pat Donahue, and more.

In addition to his rigorous touring and recording schedule, Bob is also an adjunct Professor at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, where he lectures on ethnomusicology and has been researching string music in Papua New Guinea and the tremendous number of islands around New Guinea and in the western South Pacific Ocean. Through the auspices of the University, Bob has been recording and collaborating with a wide variety of musicians from these interesting locales. He is also working toward the creation of a foundation to help third-world musicians to obtain the musical basics that western musicians take for granted, such as playable instruments, strings, tuning gears, and basic recording equipment.

Bob maintains a nearly superhuman tour schedule throughout the year, every year. Live performance tours are a vital part Bob's activity, in addition to his collaborations. He tours constantly throughout North America, Europe, Australia, Asia, and Africa.

As Bob says, "There's so much music out there…I guess I'll get some sleep in the next life!"


The slide guitar developed in many cultures around the world, but there are many deep connections between Hawaiian guitar and Indian music. The earliest known report of anyone playing slide guitar in Hawaii dates from 1876, when Gabriel Davion, an Indian boy kidnapped by Portuguese sailors and brought to Hawaii, is reported to have been playing slide guitar on his lap. Of course there are Indian instruments utilizing slide going back to earlier times. However, the normal western Hawaiian guitar was first introduced to India by Bob's Hawaiian guitar guru, Tau Moe, in 1929. Mr. Moe also lived in Calcutta from 1941-1947 at which time he made many influential recordings for H.M.V. India. Tau Moe toured with his family for 57 years around the world before his retirement and subsequent re-discovery by Bob in 1988. Tau's star pupil in India was Garney Nyss, who became India's leading Hawaiian- style recording artist. Mr. Nyss influenced Sri Brij Bhusan Kabra, the first Indian musician to play Indian classical music on the Hawaiian guitar. His star student, in turn, is Debashish Bhattacharya, who has taken the instrument to new levels, both in the form and design of the Hindustani slide guitar, but also in his incredible playing. Amazingly, all four generations were still alive in 1998. Bob had the privilege of meeting Mr. Nyss and hearing him play, during his 1998 Calcutta trip. He passed away later that year. Tau Moe passed away at 95, in 2004, but not before Debashish finally had a chance to meet him in Hawaii, completing the circle. Thus, the connection between Bob and Debashish has even deeper historical and philosophical resonance, which confirms and expands their deep friendship and musical partnership.

Debashish & Subashish Bhattacharya with Bob Brozman - Sunrise

Year: 1998
Label: Sagarika (India)

1. Aalaap Of The Grateful Meeting
2. Menacing Waltz
3. New Swinging Blues
4. Motherless Children
5. Kirwani Calypso
6. Sunrise At Calcutta
7. Pahadi-Chio-Chio_Chi
8. Song Of Life
9. Maj Khamaj / E Mama-Ea
10. Red River Valley

slidin' home.
mr | mp3 >256kbps vbr | w/ cover | 126mb

*released in India only. Very difficult to obtain...

but you can get their collaboration Mahima at

October 9, 2009

Paul Smith - Mysterious Barricades: The Banjo Redefined

This is an incredible banjo album. It's so beautiful!!! (and that's an odd word to be paired with such a rude-sounding instrument)... It also continues to confirm my notion that every single record issued by Flying Fish was great (or every one I've heard so far at least). Moreover, he paved the way for Béla Fleck and Alison Brown, both of whom went on to become much more famous than he. Indeed, he's pretty much impossible to find information on, and I'm pretty sure this is his only record. God, it's good though... really. The best ragtime banjo number I've ever heard (his arrangement of Joseph Lamb's 'Ragtime Nightingale' is simply stunning), and classical banjo to match the great John Bullard. And really interesting original pieces, kinda dawgy but with less jazz and more classical and Celtic influence. There's even a traditional Irish number, done fingerstyle on a 5-string. Really, this guy could have been what Béla Fleck has become, but he never wowed everybody with his bluegrass chops, so he never really became famous. Ah, well. Another forgotten masterpiece, prime for blogging!

Paul Smith - Mysterious Barricades: The Banjo Redefined

Year: 1981
Label: Flying Fish

Review by Brian Olewnick

Banjoist Paul Smith presented here a selection of works divided between traditional folk and bluegrassy pieces and works from the classical repertoire rearranged for banjo. The former are the most attractive, including songs like his own "Missouri," sounding a bit like David Grisman's work from around the same period, and the Irish tune "Julia Delaney," a delightful romp giving Smith's nimble fingers a good workout. The title cut was originally a harpsichord work by François Couperin, played solo here and quite appealingly, the hollow banjo chords giving the short piece some breathing room. The little-known Joseph Lamb's "Ragtime Nightingale" is an unexpected delight with a subtlety of line and mysterious quality that compares reasonably well with Scott Joplin. The Beethoven and Vivaldi compositions work less well, coming off as slightly precious and overly benign. There's a bit too much self-consciousness in Smith's avowed attempts to "redefine" the banjo. One would have wished he simply relaxed and played pieces like "The Last Minute" and "Julia Delaney" and stopped worrying so much. As is, Mysterious Barricades is generally enjoyable and a fine banjo showcase, but it could have been much more.

Paul Smith, banjo and fiddle
Adam Rose, guitar
John Held, piano
Tudy McLain, flute
Paul Kotapish, bouzouki
Kundry Berger, piano and harpsichord
Joe Bichsell, cello

01 Missouri
02 Beethoven: Sonatina in C for mandolin and piano w/o 44.
03 Pythagoras
04 Julia Delaney
05 Les Barricades Mystérieuses
06 Ragtime Nightingale
07 The Last Minute
08 Tim's Flatted Fifth
09 Vivaldi: Concerto in D for lute, two violins, and continuo; I. Allegro
10 Vivaldi: Concerto in D for lute, two violins, and continuo; II. Largo
11 Vivaldi: Concerto in D for lute, two violins, and continuo; III. Allegro

pythagorian mysteries.
fresh vinyl rip, cleaned | mp3 >256kbps

I'm really curious about ragtime, classical, and Irish music played on the 5-string banjo. If any of you have Fred Sokolow - Ragtime Banjo, Bluegrass Style, or John Bullard - Bach on Banjo, I'd love to hear them. Or others I may not know about!

New Irish Blog

A great new blog featuring many out-of-print records of Irish Traditional music just opened up. Go see Ceol Alain!

October 8, 2009

Berline-Crary-Hickman - BCH

"Berline, Crary, Hickman (BCH) look like a bluegrass band (middle aged men with hairlines going north) in their photos, but they play like masters."

This trio is definitely a bluegrass supergroup, though not on the order of Muleskinner. While this is definitely progressive, hard-driving bluegrass, I couldn't call it newgrass or anything other than bluegrass. It's just mostly instrumental bluegrass performed as a trio with a very full, clean, powerful sound, and played as good as it can be played. The singing sucks, but it's not frequent. That's all!

Byron Berline - Biography
by Sandra Brennan

Like his contemporary Vassar Clements, fiddler Byron Berline expanded the sonic possibilities of bluegrass, adding elements of jazz, pop, blues, rock and traditional country to the genre. In addition to being a popular solo act, he performed as a session musician on a number of albums, including records by the Flying Burrito Brothers, Stephen Stills, the Dillards, Gram Parsons, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson, and James Taylor.

Berline learned to play from his father, an old-time fiddler. After graduating from high school, he attended the University of Oklahoma, where he played music with a campus folk group. In 1963, the Dillards played a concert on the University of Oklahoma campus. A friend of Berline's arranged an audition for him with Doug Dillard, who was so impressed he invited the young fiddler to join them for a number. Berline then joined the Cleveland Country Ramblers, and in 1964, he appeared on the Dillards' Pickin' and Fiddlin' and won the National Fiddle Championship in Missoula, Missouri. He played the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, where he met Bill Monroe, who told Berline that he wanted him to join the Blue Grass Boys in the future. In 1967, he graduated with a BA in education, but chose to join Monroe; his first appearance with the band was a show at the Grand Ole Opry. Six months after he joined the Blue Grass Boys, he was drafted into the US Army.

Just before Berline was discharged from the Army in 1969, he was invited to join the Dillard and Clark Expedition. He remained with Dillard and Clark until 1971, when the group disbanded. While with them, he played sessions for a number of other artists, including the Flying Burrito Brothers' debut album, The Gilded Palace of Sin. Following the breakup of Dillard and Clark, Berline played with the Dillard Expedition. In 1970, Berline scored the ABC television movie, Run Simon Run, the first of many films he would score. In 1971, he toured with a revamped version of the Flying Burrito Brothers. Following the tour, Berline and fellow Burritos Roger Bush and Kenny Wertz formed the Country Gazette. During this time, he also continued with his session work, appearing on albums by Gram Parsons, Bert Jansch, Ian Matthews and Southern Comfort, and Bill Wyman.

In 1975, Berline left Country Gazette and moved to Los Angeles with his family, where he intended to concentrate on songwriting, session work, and scoring films. Later that year, he founded Sundance with Dan Crary, Jack Skinner, John Hickman, Allen Wald, and Skip Conover; the following year, Vince Gill and Mark Cohen joined the band. Sundance recorded one eponymous album in 1976 before disbanding. In the late '70s, Berline recruited Crary and Hickman for a tour of Japan. Following the tour, the trio recorded three albums for Sugar Hill; concurrently, Berline also founded the LA Fiddle Band.

In 1980, Berline founded the production company BCH with Crary and Hickman, and released a solo album, Outrageous, on Flying Fish. In 1981, the LA Fiddle Band released an eponymous solo album for Sugar Hill. Berline worked on Chris Hillman's 1984 album Desert Rose and also an album of duets with fiddler Hickman in 1986. Two years later, Berline, Crary, and Hickman changed the name of their trio to BCH and added bassist Steve Spurgin to their lineup. The new incarnation of BCH released Now They Are Four in 1988. The group added mandolinist/guitarist John Moore in 1990; following his addition, the group re-named itself California, and released their first album, Traveler, in 1992. Berline also continued releasing solo efforts.

Dan Crary - Biography by Johnny Loftus

Flatpicking guitarist Dan Crary was born and raised in Kansas. It was there that he first developed an interest in guitar, particularly the steel-string, flat-top version favored by artists like Doc Watson. In 1968, Crary helped found the Bluegrass Alliance, and used Watson's influence as a jumping-off point for innovation in the genre. Throughout the 1970s, Crary appeared with the group Sundance, which included fiddler Byron Berline and banjoist John Hickman. He also developed his reputation as a master interpreter of traditional music (like that written for the fiddle) for six- and 12-string guitars. His albums include 1983's Guitar, which was a who's who in the new bluegrass scene of the time. Béla Fleck, Sam Bush, and Mark O'Connor all contributed to the record, which included modern bluegrass interpretations of classical music pieces. 1990 saw the establishment of California with Berline and Hickman; the combo experimented even further with bluegrass' intersections into other genres, and stayed active even as Crary appeared with his other projects, including Men of Steel with Genovese flatpicking master Beppe Gambetta. MOS released a live recording in spring 2003.

John Hickman - Biography

John Hickman (b. October 7, 1942) is an American five-string banjo player known for his clean picking and occasional ragtime influenced style.

John Hickman was born in Hilliard, Ohio but grew up in Columbus. He began playing the guitar but switched to banjo in 1957. With some help from his friend Robbie Robinson he learned to play the banjo. After performing together with Allen and Wakefield on the WWVA Jamboree in 1960, Hickman and Robbie Robinson formed the "Dixie Gentlemen". Two years later, Hickman enlisted in the Marines. In 1964, he began performing with musicians like Pee Wee Lambert and Landon Rowe. Three years later he formed a group with Chuck Cordell, Sid Campbell and Robinson. Unfortunately, Cordell and Robinson were killed in a plane crash. Campbell and Hickman soon joined mandolinist Earl Taylor's "Stony Mountain Boys".

In 1969, Hickman moved to Los Angeles, California where he began to associate with fiddler Byron Berline. Later in 1975, Byron Berline, John Hickman, Allen Wald and Jack Skinner formed "Sundance". The formation lasted three years. Berline, Hickman and guitarist Dan Crary then started to perform together and after a successful tour in Japan, they formed "Berline, Crary and Hickman". In the '90s, BCH added Steve Spurgin's song writing, singing, and bass playing talents to the group and John Moore began playing mandolin with them soon after, forming California. California has been the recipient of the IBMA Instrumental Group of the Year.

Hickman currently teaches banjo and repairs instruments in Byron Berline's Double Stop Music Shop in Guthrie Oklahoma, and plays dates with California, BCH and the Byron Berline Band.

Berline-Crary-Hickman - BCH

Year: 1986
Label: Sugar Hill


now they are 3.
fresh vinyl rip, cleaned | mp3 >256kbps

Guy Van Duser

If you downloaded the Rounder Guitar compilation I posted a few months ago, you heard Guy Van Duser playing an incredible Fats Waller tune called Viper's Drag. Finally I've managed to get some more of him; some out-of-print vinyls both of him playing solo and with ace clarinetist Billy Novick.

Now, this is not difficult music to listen to (playing it is a whole other story). It's pleasant, balanced, and executed flawlessly. But there is something quite special nonetheless. Like a perfect little gem, these pieces really shine. Also, he picked a niche (stride and early jazz) that very few guitar players ever go near. All the pieces are performed fingerstyle on a nylon-strung guitar, and only on the last album is there vocals, which is generally a good thing because I don't particularly care for most early jazz and pop lyrics. Despite (or perhaps because of?) being stripped of their common musical setting - pianos, brass, etc. - you can really hear the music in a new light - both the melody and the jumping bass lines.

Fingerstyle guitar virtuoso Guy Van Duser has been heard on National Public Radio for many years as a player of background and theme music, and as a featured performer on Prairie Home Companion. Since the late '70s, his many collaborations with clarinetist, saxophonist, vocalist, and pennywhistler Billy Novick have endeared him to listeners with old-fashioned tastes, for Van Duser's primary working repertoire has always consisted of early jazz, swing standards, and Tin Pan Alley pop tunes. While his lifelong respect for Chet Atkins, some early experience as a bluegrass bassist, and longstanding involvement as a sideman with country musician Bill Staines is proof of his genre-defying versatility, Van Duser is primarily a jazz guitarist who prefers and specializes in warm, reassuring pop and jazz melodies from the '30s.

Guy Van Duser was born in 1948, the son of a concert pianist and a food service worker. As a perceptive, impressionable youngster in upstate New York, he received some instruction on piano and accordion and engaged in guitar duets with his father while coming up under the influence of dad's collection of phonograph records and music taped off of the radio. It was through a taped broadcast that young Van Duser first heard a portion of Atkins' Finger Style Guitar album; the first Atkins LP that he actually owned was Chet Atkins' Workshop, which notably consists of pop and jazz standards. When Van Duser eventually met his idol, he showed off a bit by perfectly replicating a complex passage from one of the Atkins' albums that had originally inspired him to become a professional musician. Legend has it that Atkins paled visibly, sat down and looked at Van Duser with mingled admiration and awe as he said "kid, that album was overdubbed!" Atkins was also wowed by Van Duser's solo guitar arrangement of John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever," and quickly developed his own version of that tried-and-true crowd pleaser, during which one guitar is made to sound like an entire marching band.

Van Duser and Novick originally met during the '70s while composing music for two different dance troupes, and found that their ideas, techniques, and temperaments were pleasantly contrasted and unusually compatible. Novick was heard playing pennywhistle on Van Duser's first album, Finger-Style Guitar Solos (Rounder Records 3021), which was recorded in Newton, MA in 1977 except for the definitive version of "Stars and Stripes" which was taped live at the Nameless Coffee House in Harvard Square in May 1976 and closes out side two of the LP. The album cover features a meticulous pen and ink self portrait by Van Duser. Novick may be heard on most of Van Duser's more than ten albums and the two have spent decades touring and entertaining small but appreciative crowds, mainly in churches, coffee houses, and small clubs. Van Duser's second album, Stride Guitar was recorded in 1980, and epitomizes this artist's musical influences and preferences. The title perfectly describes his Harlem stride piano-inspired jazz guitar technique, while the composers tapped for melodies include Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Richard Whiting, Dorothy Fields, Jimmy McHugh, and Jerome Kern. Released in 1987, American Finger Style Guitar contains excerpts from three early Van Duser albums, which have yet to be reissued in their entirety by Rounder. Van Duser, who also plays piano, bass, mandolin, and electric guitar, collaborated with Novick during the '80s and '90s as arrangers and performers on several albums by vocalists Priscilla Herdman and Jeanie Stahl. Van Duser also wrote arrangements for an album released in 1992 under the name of guitarist Terrence Farrell. In addition to his ongoing partnership with Novick and occasional utility assignments like arranging music for the soundtrack of Sheldon Mirowitz's PBS documentary Columbus and the Age of Discovery, Van Duser serves as part-time professor of the guitar at the Berklee College of Music. ~ arwulf arwulf, All Music Guide

Interview with Guy Van Duser & Billy Novick

The combination of fingerstyle guitar and clarinet is so unique and yet so natural. Did it feel like magic the first time you played together? Did you know that you were onto something?

Billy: Actually, hokey as it may sound, it did feel somewhat magical the first time we had played together. Guy had composed some guitar music for some dance troupes, and I had written an avant-garde jazz piece for another group of dancers. The two pieces appeared on the same concert, and, when I heard Guy play, I was absolutely amazed. We decided we had a lot in common musically, and, when we finally got to play together, the sonority of the two wooden instruments was rapturous! There’s an almost mystical quality to the sound- earthy yet elegant at the same time. Whenever I feel I may be getting into a rut with our playing, I just tune out all the “intellectual” concerns with the music and just focus on the beauty of the sound.

Guy: Mostly we play coffeehouses and many of those happen inside churches, where the qualities of our two instruments are gloriously supported by the acoustics. And after thirty-two years, each of us is very aware of the musical mannerisms and ways of thinking that we each have, to the point where we sometimes spontaneously produce the same musical phrase on both instruments. It’s a little spooky sometimes.

Have you always been drawn to the early jazz era of song?

Billy: My musical tastes are very wide-ranging, but, yes, I have always loved the early jazz era. My older brother played in a Dixieland band in high school, and we went to a record store to get some “Dixieland” records (I hate the term “Dixieland”) and lucked out with our purchases. We got a LP of Jelly Roll Morton and his Red Hot Peppers. Neither of us had any idea who he was (I was 11 at the time), and it turns out that, fortunately, we ended up with 12 of the most highly-regarded New Orleans tunes that were ever recorded.

Guy: My mother was trained as a concert pianist and my dad played guitar a little, but what had probably the strongest influence on my musical development were the countless recordings my father would play in the house on evenings and weekends. Dixieland, big band dance music, cool 50’s jazz... and then when I learned to play some on a guitar of my own, he and I would sing duets together for a couple of hours at least two or three nights a week. He sang and taught me hundreds of tin pan alley songs, what are known to today’s players as “standards”. So I literally grew up on the stuff we’re playing now.

What’s the most “contemporary” song you play?

Billy: Both Guy and I have written a number of songs that we play. Our originals would be the most contemporary — other than that, not much after 1950.

What’s the most unusual venue that you’ve played?

Billy: In 1976, the Boston Pops was doing July 4th down in NYC, where the Statue of Liberty was unveiled after it was refurbished. (Do you actually “refurbish” the Statue of Liberty?)

We “subbed” for the Pops on the Esplanade, playing the Guy’s version of the Stars and Stripes, just the two of us on that huge stage. It was broadcast nationally...

We also opened for the Glenn Miller Orchestra at an outdoor concert in Western Mass, and they never showed up. They actually did eventually show up, but the two of us had to play a set of Glenn Miller tunes to keep the audience from leaving. It was a normal venue, but an abnormal playing situation.

Guy: Billy is forgetting to mention the wedding that he and I played for at the Dolphin Pool of the Aquarium, the reception on top of a ski mountain where we had to get the sound system up via the ski lift, and a few others. ../

Do you have a favorite memory from your days of playing together?

Billy: There were zillions of great moments, and there is no singular memory that jumps out at me. then again, I can barely remember what I did 10 minutes ago, let alone what we did 30 years ago!

Playing Passim was always a memorable event, very electric with the audience being so close. Prairie Home Companion was very exciting, too, but we did a bunch of those. Perhaps it was Guy, myself and Cathal McConnell (wondrous whistle player from the Boys of the Lough) playing a three-part harmony version of “In the Mood” on Prairie Home Companion. What in the world could we have been thinking? And why would they ever let us do that!! It wasn’t great music, but it was a lot of fun — quite quirky, as you might imagine.

“Jamming” with Chet Atkins in his kitchen was fun, particularly when the tour bus came around and everyone peered inside.

Guy: Yeah, Chet thought Billy’s renditions of be-bop jazz on the pennywhistle were very cool, I remember!

I always felt comfortable on the road with Billy; maybe because we were such complete opposites, we never got in each other’s way. He’d be up at six am, I’d be up at ten; he a vegetarian, I a card-carrying carnivore, he a sports fanatic, me a late-season dabbler. But he would drive the van and I would read aloud to him the entire sports section of whatever city’s newspaper we happened to have that morning. That was during the Golden Age of the Boston Celtics— and Billy and I ended up flying back to Boston one Sunday morning with the entire Celtics team on the plane in front of us, returning from a game with Detroit, and Larry Bird’s feet sticking out into the aisles.

Billy, you’ve done a lot of session work with other musicians, any memorable moments from any of those sessions?

Billy: Many! I think Susan Werner is one of the most talented musicians I ever met, and playing on her record was a lot of fun. In my early years (did I really write that?), I toured with David Bromberg and we did a record that Brian Ahern produced. We recorded in this house in Santa Monica, and the whole thing could have been a a parody of the LA music scene. Brian wore this Indian robe the whole time, there were all sorts of substances consumed (need I say more?), and there were all these “guests” hanging around, waiting to record a song or two with us: Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, Mac Rebennack (Dr. John), Ricky Skaggs, and Bernie Leadon (of the Eagles).

I did quite a few sessions for Philo records in Vermont, and they were a lot of fun. You’d record and stay in a beautifully refurbished barn, and just hang out for a few days. Particularly memorable were the few days up there with Dave Van Ronk, when we recorded my arrangement of Peter and the Wolf for jug band. It was Dave’s lifelong dream, if you could believe that!

I also was dragged into a portable music studio/trailer in the middle of a music festival in Toronto to do overdubs on a few songs for a demo tape for this singer, who, in fact, was Emmylou Harris. Of course, nobody knew who she was!

A lot of the soundtrack work I do is rewarding, particularly when you get a roomful of great musicians (and people) to semi-improvise some tracks.

I often end up overdubbing on 3 or 4 songs on a record. It’s increasingly rare to have everyone play at the same time now, like a real group. When it does happen, it ‘s a whole different experience. Everyone says there’s a real palpable difference for the listener. At the risk of sounding like a heretic, I don’t think that’s necessarily true. But from the musicians’ standpoint, it’s just a lot more fun.

And, since there are so many musicians spending so much time together, there’s inevitably a lot of food being ordered. At home I tend to eat a very healthy diet, with virtually no junk food. so, in the studio, there are always pizzas being ordered, Chinese food, chips, etc. I know I’m supposed to be transported by the inspiring and spiritual music we’re creating, but most of the time- and I hate to admit this- it’s the food that’s got my attention. “Finish this next take and I can have some more pizza? You got it!”

Now that’s what I call art!

Guy, can you describe what stride guitar is?

Well, the sound of many of the great early jazz recordings owes a lot to the presence of some pretty impressive piano playing, actually. The guitar on those records was always acoustic and just strummed and almost never very audible, while the pianist was performing melodies with his right hand and supplying his own bass and chords with his left, the back and forth movement of the left hand giving the impression of “striding” up and down the keyboard.

That’s what I’m trying to recreate on the guitar, rather than playing it on piano, an improvised backdrop of bass, chords, and melodies as a setting for Billy’s clarinet and vocals. I like to imagine that I’m a little “trio”, chords, bass, and rhythm, and when we both play full out, like on a Benny Goodman “big band” number, we think we’re a “two-man big band”!

- from

Guy Van Duser interview

When did you first hear Chet play?

My Dad was the first person around our neighborhood to buy a tape recorder and he taped all kinds of music off the radio. One night, the A side of the Fingerstyle Guitar album was played. I had never heard anything like that and I began to try to find out who the guitarist was. When I found out it was a man named Chet Atkins, I went down to buy that record. But, Chet Atkins Workshop was the only one they had, so it became my first Chet Atkins album which I still have.

Do you still have your first guitar?

Yes I do -- a 1962 dotneck 335. I sanded the original finish off in college, when I decided to change the color. Boy, that was a mistake. I wish I had left it alone”.

How did you become such a good bass player?

While in college I had a friend who played in a bluegrass band. One day he said they needed a bass player that very night, and asked me to play bass for them. I said that I had never played bass, but he assured me that it was easy -- just the four bottom strings of the guitar. So, he borrowed one for me that night and I played bass for about three years in bluegrass bands.

Is music how you make your living today?

Yes, everything I do to make money is associated with music by either writing or playing. I have written some soundtracks for public television in Boston. I’ve done soundtracks for a couple of films and also have written some children’s songs. My first film was when I was called to play old timey slide Dobro like they did down in the strip mines of Kentucky. Then, I was called to do other work, so I got a synthesizer. As more work came in, I purchased more things -- like a drum machine etc. -- and it paid the bills, so that is what I continue to do.

You play stride guitar. What is stride guitar?

In stride piano, the left hand plays the bass notes, moves toward the center of the piano and plays the chords, and then goes back to the bass notes. This is just like we do with our thumb when we alternate the bass strings, and is more free flowing; whereas, ragtime is a more precise way of playing. I put out that album and called it Stride Guitar which was mostly old stride piano tunes and also includes one of the numbers that my parents wrote.

Tell us how Chet came to do your arrangement of “Stars and Stripes Forever?”

Well, in about ‘77 or ‘78, I had a student in Boston who was taking lessons from me, but who actually lived in Nashville. He said that I had to come to Nashville and play this for an instructor friend of his. So, I went to Nashville and he introduced me to John Knowles, who had just gotten a Grammy for arranging “The Entertainer” for Chet, and was doing a lot of arranging and working with Chet at the time. After I was about halfway through the piece, he said, “You have to play this for Chet.” He called him up, we went over to Chet’s office at RCA, and here was Chet with an office full of people -- a photographer, Lenny Breau, and several other people. We walked in and I took my guitar out of the case. About that time, the photographer wanted to take a picture. So, Chet took my guitar, and he and Lenny stood together with Chet holding my guitar for the picture. When I started to play, I just froze up and couldn’t remember what I was going to play, but somehow, I impressed Chet enough that he asked me to come back the next day. I went back the next day and we spent a couple of hours talking about guitars, music, and things in general. I played “Stars and Stripes Forever” along with some other things and made a tape for him. He later called me to come back to Nashville. We sat down in his kitchen and he said, “Now, tell me what I do wrong.” He played it using the same notes with some different positions than those I used, but that was it.

How did you get interested in playing marches on the guitar?

I was tired of playing rags, and discovered that I could replicate the music of other instruments on the guitar. I do several marches, but “Stars and Stripes Forever” is the one that everyone remembers. In the number, “Semper Fidelis,” I bend the bass strings to get a drum sound while I play the melody on the high strings. That is an old flamenco guitar trick.

You play many kinds of music. Which is your favorite kind to play?

I guess jazz standards from the 30’s, because they are balanced 2 or 3 minute gems of harmonic sequence blended with a beautiful melody. Most of them had words, so it is very easy to get a mood or meaning that you can associate with each song.

Name a couple of memorable highlights that have happened to you in your career?

Meeting and becoming friends with my lifelong idol, Chet, and having him do one of my arrangements has to be at the top of the list. I also tell this story of how I was called to replace the Boston Pops Orchestra in 1986. For years, they had played every 4th of July at the amphitheater in Boston, but were called to play for the unveiling of the refurbished Statue of Liberty. Since they couldn’t be in two places at once, it was requested that I play “Stars and Stripes Forever” in their place in Boston to kick off the celebration. It was broadcast on public radio and was a very big event. I also scored all the music for a documentary titled Hiroshima, which was nominated for an academy award in 1988.

What do you think the future holds for fingerstyle guitarists?

There seems to be more guitars than any other instrument and guitars seem to be gaining in popularity all the time. I would like to see more really good song writers so we don’t run out of good, new material to play.

When do you plan to make another CD?

I think that Billy Novick and I will have one coming out after the first of the year. Sometime after that, I plan to make one by myself.

You can purchase Guy Van Duser records and CDs through Rounder Records, 1 Camp St., Cambridge Mass. 02240, or through Daring Records, Marblehead, Mass.

© 2000 - Association of Fingerstyle Guitarists

Guy Van Duser - Finger-Style Guitar Solos

Year: 1977
Label: Rounder

1. Chattanooga Choo-Choo
2. Coloured Aristocracy
3. Cheek To Cheek
4. Ain't She Sweet
5. Guitar Boogie Shuffle
6. Medley: Mine; American in Paris; Swanee; Sweet and Low-Down; Embraceable You; I Got Rhythm
7. Sweet Georgia Brown
8. Frog Legs Rag
9. As Time Goes By
10. Great Western TV Medley
11. Haste To The Wedding
12. Stars And Stripes Forever (live)

fresh vinyl rip, cleaned | mp3 >256kbps

Guy Van Duser - Stride Guitar

Year: 1981
Label: Rounder

Guy Van Duser's fingers dance across the fretboard on this collection of classic jazz tunes and American songbook standards. With his "stride guitar" technique (a reference to the piano style of the 1930s and 1940s) Guy reveals a new repertoire for the finger-picked guitar. Guy and clarinetist/soprano saxophonist Billy Novick make a complete ensemble, using their virtuosity in service of the pure joy they find in this music. "His articulation and dynamics are gorgeous, with bouncing bass lines, coy string bends and slick chordal slides....Van Duser swings this one right into the Finger-style Hall of Fame."-Frets

1 That Certain Feeling - Gershwin, Gershwin - 3:16
2 Snowy Morning Blues - 4:43
3 Black Beauty - Ellington - 3:21
4 Alligator Crawl - Davis, Razaf, Waller - 2:36
5 Viper's Drag - Waller - 3:24
6 Stars Fell on Alabama - Parish, Perkins - 4:05
7 Miss Brown to You - Rainger, Robin, Whiting - 3:23
8 I Can't Give You Anything But Love/Goody-Goody - Fields, Malneck, McHugh, Mercer - 2:46
9 Never Gonna Dance - Fields, Kern - 3:08
10 Seneca Slide - 3:05
11 It's Not True - 3:49
12 When I See an Elephant Fly - 3:32

what a drag.
fresh vinyl rip, cleaned | mp3 >256kbps
*out-of-print; only available online.

Guy Van Duser & Billy Novick - Get Yourself a New Broom (And Sweep Those Blues Away)

Year: 1979
Label: Rounder

Review by arwulf arwulf

Get Yourself a New Broom (And Sweep Those Blues Away) was guitarist Guy Van Duser's third album, and the first to be released in full collaboration with his longtime partner Billy Novick. It is significantly different from other Van Duser albums in that he and Novick, who almost invariably perform as a duo, are joined at times by several other players who swell the ensemble to the size of a traditional small-jazz band. The best example perhaps is the "Current Events Medley," which combines Sidney Bechet's "Egyptian Fantasy" with "The Sheik of Araby" and "Panama" to form a three-part collage of headline topics from 1979, the year this album was released on Rounder. The song list is typical for these two, and includes one title written and two popularized by Fats Waller, as well as early jazz standards by Jelly Roll Morton ("Black Bottom Stomp"), Will Marion Cook ("I'm Coming, Virginia"), Philip Braham ("Limehouse Blues"), Gus Kahn ("Ready for the River"), and Paul Dresser ("My Gal Sal"). Long unavailable, New Broom eventually became obtainable as a pricey Japanese import while still overdue for domestic reissue.

1. Black Bottom Stomp
2. Spring Cleanin'
3. Limehouse Blues
4. Ain't Misbehavin'
5. My Gal Sal / Runnin' Wild
6. Get Yourself a New Broom (...and Sweep Those Blues Away
7. I Wish I Were Twins
8. I'm Coming, Virginia
9. I'll Never Say "Never Again" Again
10. Current Events Medley: Egyptian Fantasy/The Sheik of Araby/Panama
11. Ready for the River

Note, tracks 5 & 6 are mis-labeled, and should be each other.

getta litta jelly in yo house.
fresh vinyl rip, cleaned | mp3 >256kbps

*out-of-print (only available as a pricey japanese import)

The Philadelphia Folk Festival 1972 & 1977

Following on the heels of Michael Cooney, here's a festival he's been very involved with throughout its 40-year history. It's one of the top folk festivals in the country, or at least it seems so based on the talent they bring. I've never gone, so I suppose I don't know. I'm giving you 2 things here: one is a out-of-print vinyl that I just ripped, of the festival from 1977. It's a mixed bag stylistically, but top quality throughout. A highlight is definitely Michael Cooney's rendition of the old British ballad "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight." Grisman fans will want to check out Lew London's very swinging mandolin take on "The Glory of Love" and compare it to Joseph Spence's wild grunting version.

The other share is a 20-minute bootleg of John Hartford & Norman Blake performing at the festival in 1972. I haven't said anything about Hartford on the blog so far, and I'm not going to start right now; but perhaps he'll be the subject of a future post, who knows. Anyways, I probably don't have to say too much about this music. If you know the artists, you know it's good...

John Hartford & Norman Blake - Philadelphia Folk Festival (1972)

Recorded: 08/25/72
Philadelphia Folk Festival
Old Poole Farm
Schwenksville, PA

01 - Old Joe Clark (6:01)
02 - Instrumental (2:30)
03 - You Can Do Anything (3:28)
04 - Randall Collins Is My Name (2:54)
05 - Skippin' In The Mississippi Dew (3:56)
06 - Orange Blossom Special (2:05)

you could be down there when the glory rocks.
sbdmr>dat>wavelab>cdr>eac>shn>320kbps mp3.

The Philadelphia Folk Festival (1977)

Flying Fish Records FF-064 (LP, USA, 1978)

Recorded at the Old Poole Farm, Upper Salford, PA, August 26-28, 1977

An Amazon customer said:
This record features a solidly strange cross-section of folk songs and musicians from the mid-1970s, when the "folk revival" was well past, Dylan's electric turn old news, and the hipsters had moved on. Notable names include Odetta, Kate Wolf, Tom Paxton, Dave Van Ronk, and Norman Blake -- often thought of as a leader of the "bluegrass revival" in the 1970s. Plenty of bluegrass does pop up, of course, but the sounds are diverse across the record and include many traditional songs alongside more original/new material. Other highlights include Debbie McClatchy's version of the racy "A Little Piece of Wang" and a Gershwin cover by the Lew London Trio.

Side 1
1. Bruce Martin: Scots Piping
2. Paxton: Did You Hear John Hurt?
3. Norman Blake: Jerusalem Ridge
4. Michael Cooney: Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight
5. De Danann: Irish Dance Medley: The Boys of Ballisodaire / The Longford Collector
6. Kate Wolf: Then Came the Children
7. John Jackson: Step It Up and Go
8. Odetta: I Gotta Be Me

Side 2
9. Dave Van Ronk: Green, Green Rocky Road
10. Lou Killen: All for Me Grog
11. Roger Sprung, Hal Wylie & the Progessive Bluegrassers: Wild Goose Chase
12. Debbie McClatchy: A Little Piece of Wang
13. Lew London Trio: The Glory of Love
14. Highwood String Band & The Green Grass Cloggers: Dance All Night

step it up.
fresh vinyl rip | mp3 >256kbps vbr | w/o cover

oh, and one of the featured artists on this set is Roger Sprung, Hal Wylie & the Progessive Bluegrassers. If any of you have anything else by them, particularly the album 'Grassy Licks', I would love to hear it.

October 7, 2009

Michael Cooney

"The nation's most consumate, versatile interpreter of traditional music... an encyclopedia of songs and stories. This one-man folk festival is a must to see." - Chicago magazine

Small wonder that Michael Cooney is nicknamed "the one-man folk festival." With his carload of instruments and 500-song repertoire, Michael can singlehandedly explore almost every facet of American and British Folk Music." - The Lansing Star

I hope you liked Michael Coleman. Here's another great Michael C: Michael Cooney. Sounding something like the most successful combination you could imagine of Pete Seeger, Mike Seeger, Dave Van Ronk, and Lou Killen, he was one of the greatest folk performers in America in the 60s and 70s, but is sadly forgotten now. He plays a great armful of instruments, each with a degree of mastery that is rarely encountered. He is a good singer, a great storyteller, and a consummate entertainer. He is also one of very few people who has mastered that rarest of forms, the story-song, complete with changes in tempo, dynamics, color, and evocative sound effects. His repertoire spans old-time banjo-ballads, British sea-shanties, folk-blues from the ragtime era, primordial country, vintage jazz, and pretty much that could fall under the heading 'folk'.

On first listen his repertoire and energetic treatment recall a certain unpleasant side of the early years of the folk revival, when bands like the Kingston Trio, Brothers Four, We Five, and Chad Mitchell Trio threatened to turn folk music into acoustic pop music in a sweater with strummed banjos and tight harmonies. But any more than a cursory listen will clearly set Michael apart from the pack. For one thing, he can actually play his instruments to the level that the music demands. He's been known to spend 12 hours at a time learning to play a bass run like Leadbelly, and his flawless fretless-banjo-frailing didn't come overnight, let me tell you. Also, he does the real folklorist's work, delving into the history of the songs, listening to early and obscure recordings of them and learning the full verses that were too strange to be understood by the 50's mentality and so dropped off of more popular versions. He shows that you can be happy and upbeat without being cheesy, and that you can be slow and mournful without being morose.

Basically, if you like folk music of any variety, you will like Michael Cooney. He's the real thing. I defy you to listen to his 12-string slide-guitar version of John Henry or his epic story-song version of Cumberland Mountain Bear-Chase and not be awed and delighted. Go on, try.

"Michael Cooney is a vast reservoir of folk stuff; he spans entire histories and traditions."
- The Tech, M.I.T., Cambridge, Massachusetts

"Like Pete Seeger, he can turn a whole auditorium into a living room."
- The New York Times

"Usually when I hear glowing reviews about a movie, play or concert artist, I am always a little disappointed in the final product - expecting too much, I suppose. Michael Cooney has changed all that and renewed my faith in performers. He WAS everything promised and MORE."
- The Times

Biographical Notes

Michael Cooney's father, Bernard ("Barney the Hat") Cooney, was born and raised in Cicero, Illinois -- headquarters of famous prohibition mobster, Al Capone. When he was 14 he would sometimes tell his mother he was going to church, then get his guitar from the woodshed and sing in "speakeasies". Gangsters would cry and shove money into his guitar. Later he sang table-to-table at restaurants with his brother on violin. By then he knew hundreds of songs and had a reputation for being able to sing any song requested. (His brother later played violin for two years in the Detroit Symphony before they figured out he couldn't read music.) Maybe that's where Michael got his ability to sing hundreds of songs of all kinds and play a whole carload of instruments.

Michael was born in 1943 in Carmel, California and grew up (mostly) in Tucson, Arizona (where his dad moved to manage the NBC radio station). His parents divorced early and Michael spent much time in foster homes and the orphanage there and in California during his early years. Hardly was he out of high school when he took to the road, hitch-hiking and riding freight trains for two years -- to Boston and back, up the west coast, to Colorado (where he spent a few months in Denver and Boulder, recovering from the broken leg he got his first time skiing), ending up in California.

In 1963 Michael was quite popular in one club, "The Top of The Tangent" in Palo Alto, where a local high school band that came regularly on amateur nights learned several songs from him. That band went on to perform some of those songs as The Grateful Dead.

But the lure of the "Mystic East" was irresistible, and in 1964 Michael went to New York, then Boston. Since then he has lived in various parts of the northeast, plus seven years in Toronto. In 1987, realizing a life-long dream, he moved to Maine where he now lives in the small lobster-fishing village of Friendship, on the rocky coast.

Michael learned his music from hundreds of people, well-known and unknown. He credits Pete Seeger and Sam Hinton for his interest in traditional folk music and the history behind the songs. Also for his wanting to "help others to feel what I feel when I hear this great old stuff". He credits Sam, and his old travelling partner, Grady Tuck (now deceased) for his relaxed ("Perry Como school of folk music") performing style.

Michael has been helping others to experience the beauty, power and humor of old and new songs for over 35 years, in countless halls, clubs, coffeehouses, etc., in the US, Canada, Mexico, Great Britain and Europe. He has performed, lectured or done residencies at hundreds of US and Canadian colleges and schools of all levels. He has performed at most of the major North American folk festivals (some many times), including The National Folk Festival, Smithsonian, Newport, Mariposa, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Monterey, Berkeley, San Diego, Hudson River Revival, Old Songs. He has been a performer and mc at the Philadelphia Folk Festival semi-regularly since 1966 and for 15 the last 21 years.

Michael was six years on the board of the National Folk Festival in Washington, DC., in 1984, artistic director of Canada's Mariposa Folk Festival, in 1986, Artistic Director of Philadelphia's "Maritime America Festival" (part of "We The People 200 - the National Celebration of the 200th Anniversary of the United States Constitution"), and a consultant to many other festivals. He was a member of the Music Panel of the Maine Arts Commission for four years and head of the panel in 1992-93. For twenty years Michael was a director of, contributor to, and columnist for the US's oldest national folk music magazine, Sing Out!

Though he claims to be slowing down, Michael's tours in 1998 took him to Hawaii and back with many stops along the way, and the year before saw him in Antarctica, on the first passenger ship (a Russian icebreaker) ever to sail completely around the continent. Michael as the ship's entertainer, visited a dozen research bases and many other sites of historical, zoological and geological interest during the two-month circumnavigation.

In 1993 Michael founded The Friendship Letter, "a neighborhood newsletter for people who don't live near each other". After six years of publication, he reports subscribers in 48 states, 3 Canadian provinces and the Canary Islands. (And subscriber Garrison Keillor has bought 32 gift subscriptions in the last few years.)

At home Michael likes to putter in his workshop, mess around with computers, musical instruments, books, and boats. He says he ever seeks "neat songs" plus good and fun stuff (and subscribers) for The Friendship Letter.
-- Walter Eagle

Michael Cooney - Michael Cooney or "The Cheese Stands Alone"

Year: 1968
Label: Folk-Legacy

1. Turkey in the Straw
2. Worried Blues
3. Fannin Street
4. Jim Crack Corn
5. Rigs of the Time
6. Creole Belle
7. John Henry
8. Nu Grape
9. Apple Pickers Reel
10. That Crazy War
11. Red Cross Store Blues
12. The Bankers and the Diplomats
13. Cumberland Mountain Bear Chase
14. The Engineer

it's old blue!
vinyl, cleaned, mild skippage | mp3 >256kbps vbr | no cover

Michael Cooney - Still Cooney after All these Years

Year: 1979
Label: Front Hall

1. Cocaine Rag
2. Whoa Back Buck
3. The Brisk Young Butcher
4. The Mermaid
5. Sir Patrick Spens
6. Waterbound
7. Sloop John B
8. "Oops" & Me and My Shadow
9. Poor Cotton Weaver
10. Old Reuben
11. Cripple Creek
12. Deep Elem Blues
13. Candy Man
14. Spanish Flang-Dang

along comes sally with her nose all tore.
vinyl, cleaned, mild skippage | mp3 >256kbps vbr | no cover

note: I was pretty sure these albums were OOP when I ripped, uploaded and wrote about them. It turns out, they're mostly being reissued. However, seeing as you probably wouldn't have heard about Michael or known how wonderful he is without the post & music, I left them up. That being said, he has a new album out which you should hastily go and buy at his website.

Also, check out his essays on "What is a Folk Song" and "A Case Against Fame"

Robin Williamson - Legacy of the Scottish Harpers

And fresh on the heels of Michael Coleman we move over to Scotland for some more traditional, magical, ancient music. As a founding member of the Incredible String Band, Robin Willaimson's place in music history would be secure if he had done nothing else. But he successfully reinvented his approach to music on multiple occasions, becoming in the process the greatest living example of a bard. He dug deep into the traditions of his music and found the travelling musician/storyteller/mythmaker/historykeeper archetype at its roots. He plays a number of instruments, from fiddle and guitar to harp and some of the weirder ones too... and he's a fantastic raconteur.

With this album he goes back to the most ancient of Celtic instruments, the harp. There is something very special about harp music: its purity of tone, its graceful simplicity of timbre and hue, its clouds of resonance. In the hands of many a lesser musician, this grace and purity gets lots in the clouds of vagueness and the music loses its dynamic form, becoming an over-relaxing blob of prettiness. Not so with Robin Williamson, never one to shirk a crooked tune. While it certainly never recalls his early work as a pioneer of 'wyrd folk' with the Incredible String Band, those who listen closely to this work will find not only a somber elegance but a lively spark of trickery as well. The magic of these tunes was certainly not lost on Williamson, who gives them an honest, faithful, and beguiling treatment.

Biography by Leon Jackson

Between 1966 and 1974, Robin Williamson was one half of the Incredible String Band, but his career did not founder after ISB's demise, although it might be said to have taken a few quirky turns, including a collaboration on a spy novel and the publication of a bizarre semi-autobiography. Away from these literary avocations, Williamson formed the Far Cry Ceilidh Band with Stan Schnier and Mark Simos, but never made it to the recording studio. In 1976, Williamson met with harpist Sylvia Woods, and together with Chris Caswell and Jerry McMillian, they formed Robin Williamson & His Merry Band. Between 1977 and 1979, they released three albums: the highly traditional Journey's Edge in 1977, American Stonehenge in 1978, and A Glint at the Kindling in 1979, which featured the epic historical cycle "Five Denials on Merlin's Grave." After the breakup of the Merry Band, Williamson started to tour solo, offering highly ambient sets dominated by traditional stories set to song. Releases of this period include Songs of Love and Parting and the dedicated folklorist's Legacy of the Scotish Harpers. Williamson's concern with the British bardic tradition also manifested itself in several books and tapes containing spoken renditions of traditional tales. Subsequent projects saw the prolific Williamson recording tapes and discs of music for children and pouring his energies into environmental projects for the Scottish Wildlife Trust. Iron Stone was released on the ECM label in 2006.

Robin Williamson - Legacy of the Scottish Harpers

Year: 1984
Label: Flying Fish Records

1. Scottish Cap/Scotland
2. Floweres of the Forrest Cromlets Lilt/Chevy Chase
3. Weel Hoddleed Lucky/The Lochaben Harper
4. Gilderoy/Cow the Gowans
5. MacGregor's Lamentation/Macgregor's Search
6. Kilt Thy Coat Maggie/Three Sheepskins
7. Lord Dundee's Lamentation/The Braes O' Killiekrankie
8. I'll Mak Ye Fain to Follow Me/Shame Fa' the Gear and the Blathrie O'T
9. Lady Cassilis' Lilt/The Auld Jew/The Broom O' Cowdenknowes
10. MacDonald of the Isles' Salutation
11. Rushes/Birk and Green Hollin
12. Soor Plooms
13. Jockey Drucken Babble/Sae Mirrie as We Hae Been/Jockey Went to the Wood
14. Omnia Vincit Amor/The Banks of Helicon/Deil Tak the Wars

cam ye lassies an weep.
fresh vinyl rip | mp3 >256kbps vbr | w/o cover

for those of you who get CRC extracting errors on tracks 3 and 7, they're here:
Track 3, Track 7
or both in this file uploaded by 5147hoppe:


Michael Coleman - The Classic Recordings

Well the season is turning and this ol' pirate is preparing to once again journey overseas. Pretty soon the blog posts will stop, at least for a month or so, as I won't have regular access to computers. In honor of my return to the fair isle of Eirann, and in honor of my finally getting my turntable-to-computer system working again, here's a fresh rip of an out-of-print vinyl of some 78's of the greatest Irish fiddler of all time. How's that for blogworthy?! But who's that? Michael Coleman, of course! As the liner notes state, "Coleman's contribution to Irish music is so significant that to describe it by the customary superlatives is almost beside the point."

It's fairly safe to say that no musician has had a greater impact on Irish music, besides of course the legendary Turlough O'Carolan.

In 1974, a monument was erected by the Coleman Traditional Society. It is close to his birthplace, on the Tubbercurry to Gurteen road. Nearby is the Coleman Heritage Centre, a music archive and a replica of the house where he lived. The monument bears this inscription:

"Michael Coleman. Master of the fiddle. Saviour of Irish traditional music. Born near this spot in 1891. Died in exile 1945."

Biography (pieced together from various sources)

Michael Coleman was born on January 31st 1891, in Knockgrania, in the rural Killavil district, near Ballymote, County Sligo, Ireland. His father, James Coleman, was from Banada in Roscommon County, and a respected flute player who eked out a living on a small parcel of land. Michael was the seventh child of James and Beatrice, and the surviving half of a pair of twins. As such he had poor health, and was small in stature.

The district of Killavil was renowned for its music, particularly fiddle players and travelling musicians, who augmented the locals at many a house session. Travelling dance teachers were also a feature of country life at the time and Michael seems to have been a good dancer in his youth. He actually met James Morrisson at a dancing class - two who were to feature in Irish Music in United States. By the time he was 10 years old he was an accomplished dancer and violinist and was in demand at local concerts.

His elder brother Jim had a high reputation but was never recorded. In his formative years Michael was influenced by Uilleann pipers, including Johnny Gorman. Coleman was also influenced by the playing of James Scott Skinner. Michael, being small of stature, was not built for heavy work, so music was his only resource, travelling to play at house dances, fairs, etc.

He left school in 1908, at the age of 17. He won competition prizes in 1909 and 1910. In 1914 he moved to Manchester to join his brother, but returned after a few months. In 1914, at the age of twenty-three, Coleman sailed to America with his friend John Hunt.

New York gave Coleman many opportunities to play in dance halls, saloons, clubs, etc. He joined the Keith Theatres vaudeville circuit, and played at many venues. In 1917, he settled in New York City, and married Marie Fanning, originally from County Monaghan, Ireland. They had one child, Mary.

Between 1921 and 1936 he recorded roughly eighty 78-rpm records for many record labels, His most lasting contribution was his numerous 78’s recordings by various recording companies during the 1920’s and 1930’s. In some of his early recordings a non-de-plume name is used. The equipment available at the time could not do justice to the subtleties of the playing; even a fiddle fitted with a horn to boost the volume was used for a time. Money was still so scarce that Coleman always took a fee for his performance but never worried about Royalties. Coleman also preferred to play solo rather than join an orchestra, where in fact the earning potential lay. He was mainly accompanied by pianists, but on some recordings he used guitarists. He also recorded with fiddlers Pakie Dolan and Tom Gannon, and flute players Tom Morrison and Michael Walsh. He built up a firm friendship with fiddlers Hughie Gillespie and James Morrison in later years.

He was the most famous exponent of the Sligo style, both at technical and expressive levels. The Sligo fiddle style is highly decorative, using many triplets. James Morrison is another exponent of this style. Michael's records reached County Sligo, and influenced a new generation. He died in Manhattan on January 4th 1945, and is buried in St. Raymond's Cemetery, in the Bronx.

The Classic Recordings of Michael Coleman
Masterpieces by the Greatest Irish Fiddler of Our Time

Year: 1979
Label: Shanachie

1 Lord McDonald's
2 The Fox Hunter's
3 The Morning Dew/Woman of the House
4 Heights of Alma/All the Way to Sligo
5 Dougherty's/Tell Her I Am
6 The Derry Hornpipe
7 Bonny Kate/Jenny's Chickens
8 Tom Ward's Downfall/The Reel of Mulinavat
9 The Blackbird
10 The Duke of Leinster & His Wife
11 High Level Hornpipe
12 Malloy's Favorite
13 Mrs. Kenny's Barndance
14 Dr. Gilbert/The Queen of May

step it up.
vinyl, cleaned | mp3 >224kbps vbr | w/o cover | 72mb


dedicated to Bernie, Gadaya & Joski

you'll find the other out-of-print Shanachie vinyl at Times Ain't Like They Used to Be

and also get a bunch of Coleman 78's at